The first budget proposal is Governor Bredesen’s proposal. The second and third budget proposals are from the Senate Chamber. The three budgets have each been presented in the State Senate with great discussion.
The problem that the State Legislature has is that the House of Representatives has declined to present a budget of any type. The House of Representatives has, to date, failed to act on any of the three budget proposals, nor have they offered an alternative of any type, from either party or from any combination of members of the House of Representatives.
Obviously, this is a major problem because a budget must pass both the Senate and the House of Representatives before the state can have a budget for the next fiscal year.
The underlying issue is a lack of leadership in the House of Representatives. I must admit that as a young man I often thought that a government in which neither party was in control would be appealing in that I hoped that only good things would come forward from a government where the parties were evenly divided.
After watching the Tennessee House of Representatives for the past two years, the House has had that exact scenario. Anyone in our state would be hard pressed to say it has been a success. Frankly, a government in which no one has the control of the vote is one that is locked down. Specifically, that is what we find in the Tennessee House of Representatives.
There is no one in control. No one has 50 votes and there is a major void in leadership. The highest and best example is simply the fact that we are here closing in at the end of May and the House of Representatives does not have a budget proposal.
Where Do We Go To From Here?
At this point the Senate has presented its three budgets and simply must wait on the House to be able to put together 50 votes for some plan. This is proven to be very difficult for House members.
The bottom line is the House members must accept that we have more government than our citizens are willing to pay for. The House must decide at this point if they are going to impose taxes, if they are going to reduce spending or if they want to continue to fiddle away the monies that we have worked hard to preserve for true rainy day issues.
Some argue that it is raining in Tennessee (Rainy Day Fund). I disagree. It is a difficult budget time across the nation. A true rainy day crisis is the type that we experienced in 2001 and 2002. We are nowhere near that type of crisis.
That is why I oppose using rainy day funds at this current time. We have plenty of non-essential government programs that while they are good and worthy, it is time for us to evaluate and decide if we really need these programs? And if a community values one of these good and worthy programs, then the community should fund the program and not the state.
Surely we can all appreciate that one size does not fit all. The point is that the state should not mandate and impose upon everyone programs that some see as good and worthy and others see as questionable expenditures of the public's tax dollar.
I have always looked at the state budget as one of which we are charged as elected officials to be good stewards of what has been given of the tax dollars that are taken from our Tennessee families and businesses. Although we do not spend money the way a lot of other states do, there is no question that we have our fair share of questionable expenditures.
For example, this past week during the Senate debate, some senators from Shelby County were pushing for funding of a failed golf course in a downtown Memphis State Park. I will not engage into the issue of whether or not the state should be in the golfing business.
However, I will say that if the state is in the golfing business, if it cannot pay for itself, directly or indirectly, then we should not be spending money for it. A golf course in downtown Memphis is not going to lure visitors to Memphis. There are many other reasons that one would go to Memphis, but playing golf in a downtown state park is not one of them. Accordingly, I see no benefit for that being funded.
Another example that many of you have raised this past week is the fish hatchery that Gov. Bredesen proposes to place in the Carter County District in Upper-East Tennessee. I have received several calls and numerous e-mails from citizens who are opposed to this.
I agree with you. I'm not sure I can justify state dollars being expended for a fish hatchery when we already have fish hatcheries throughout the State of Tennessee. To propose to fund a fish hatchery in this budget year strikes me as being similar to the “bridge to no where” funding proposal that exemplifies the type of projects that Congress proposes to fund, even when our nation has greater needs.
Here in Tennessee we need to fully fund K-12 education, which would include the career ladder program.
We need to fully fund our law enforcement agencies, our prisons, roads and other essential services. Once our essential services are fully funded, then it is time for us to prioritize what the citizens of the State of Tennessee have said that they would like to see funded.
After that, our vote will be difficult. We must choose to eliminate or decrease funding for what some may consider are good and worthy programs.
That is where we are. The days ahead will require a consensus of 50 votes from the House and it will require difficult decisions. I believe that in the Senate we are ready to make that decision.
I am hopeful that the House of Representatives can find the will power to say no to funding some of these frivolous items and let us move on with the budget and conclude this fiscal year.
(For more e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Legislative Toll-Free Number: 1-800-449-8366, ext. 13730. Legislative Address —9 Legislative Plaza, Nashville, TN 37243. Assistant Tonya Morelock and intern Savannah Temple can assist.)